The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Knock Off (1998)

Photobucket

Now that we're somewhat back to the regular schedule, it's time for our box office bomb of the week. That's right, the Jean Claude Van Damme classic Knock Off. This was Van Damme's ill-fated dip into the Hong Kong action scene, co-starring the ever hard to watch but he was funny on SNL Rob Schneider. It would also be his second to last gasp in a mainstream theatrical role, with the last gasp being his Universal Soldier sequel.

Knock Off is about two guys, Van Damme and Schneider, who work for a jeans company. The Russians have developed green exploding nano bombs, and they've put them in knock off jeans, ripping off the jeans for the company Van Damme and Schneider work for. After that it's a series of a lot of people being revealed CIA agents, a lot of green tinted explosions, and some pretty solid Van Damme martial arts.

Photobucket

On the last Notorious BIG album released while he was alive, Life After Death, he does a song called "Notorious Thugs", where he raps with the Bone Thugs N' Harmony. If you don't know, the Bone Thugs rap very quickly, so quickly that even if you know the words, you'd probably have trouble keeping up. Anyway, BIG did a decent job emulating their style. It was the same for Van Damme here. He comes from the 1990s school of slower, more dramatic fight scenes, and probably no one dramatized them more than he did. Here he was forced to be fast like a Jet Li or Jackie Chan, and like BIG, he did a decent job. I know Van Damme gets nailed all the time for his martial arts, but he really was a professional kickboxer before he was an actor-- he's no Matt Damon.

The rest of the film was ridiculous. Green flame? Was the Green Lantern attacking? Maybe Sean Connery as the Green Knight. And exploding jeans, that was just amazing. The movie was just all over the place, like the director was making it up as he went along. Don't get me wrong, there were some great scenes, especially with Van Damme fighting, but there were also scenes like the one where Lela Rochon is tied to a chair, then an explosion knocks her over and we see her hands freed, and then she's on the ground, her hands magically tied again. I understand the director saying "we can't reshoot that explosion, we just have to go with it with her hands coming free to brace herself."; but then he's got to cut out the following scenes where she has her hands tied. It was a metaphor for the movie.

Photobucket

We are two films away from having the whole Van Damme DTV oeuvre on the DTVC. I have seen Black Eagle, so we'll do that one soon, and after that it's No Retreat, No Surrender. My friend at Movies in the Attic has been on me to do this one for some time, though, and it's really a much more fun movie than Black Eagle, so I decided to go with it first. I'm curious to see what The Eagle Path is like, because unlike Seagal and Lundgren, Van Damme's post theater DTV career has been one of denial. He's fought his decline in relevance tooth and nail, and it's been evident in everything he's done. JCVD felt like his way of coming to terms with his new reality, but hearing that he turned down a role in Stallone's The Expendables makes me think he's still the old him. Knock Off, if anything, was probably a major blow to his ego that he wasn't the marquee that puts butts in the seats like it did in the 90s, but instead of moving on, he spent the ten years after trying to reclaim a past glory that was never there.

Rob Schneider. I don't know what else to say. You know the movies, you know the pain. Deuce Bigelow, The Animal, The Hot Chick. A guy who was so funny on SNL was so not after. His leading roles read like a list of Billy Madison movies, and in fact, he's appeared in quite a few of his friend Adam Sandler's films. I remember him on Conan O'Brian teaching a class on self-defence, where he sang "Kung-Fu Fighting". That was hilarious. How can that be? Is it the material? It definitely was the material here. Schneider as a CIA agent? Sounds like another Billy Madison movie.

Photobucket

There was one bright spot: Micheal Wong. He played the detective after the explosives, and also served as the one voice of sanity, which meant, unfortunately, that he had a limited role in the film. His imdb bio is almost all Hong Kong movies, so I may never see him again, but I'll try. Whatever happens, Michael Wong, I'll never forget you, you were one of the good ones. By the way, he's an Aries. Just saying.

You can get this right now on Netflix's Watch Instantly feature, but I don't know if you should. The martial arts are pretty solid, but it's a very bad movie. Like very, very bad. Like Rob Schneider bad.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120724/

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Tournament (2009)

Photobucket

You may have seen in the comments section last week that RepoGenetic suggested I check out The Tournament, which was released last Tuesday. Ving Rhames and the always hot Kelly Hu? Where do I sign up?

The Tournament is about a competition every seven years involving 30 of the world's top assassins fighting each other to the death. Ving wins the one that opens the film, and plans on retiring champion, but when his wife is murdered by another assassin, he signs up for revenge. There's also Kelly Hu, a Chinese killer, who stumbles upon a priest (the guy who played Begbie in Trainspotting), thinking he's another player. Turns out he's mistakenly swallowed one of the trackers all the assassins have in them so they can recognize each other, and so the people who run the game can keep an eye on them. She takes him along and protects him until he can pass the tracker through his system. The problem is, she protects him at her own peril, because after 24 hours of playing, if there isn't a winner, the tracking devices explode, killing all the remaining players.

Photobucket

This is pretty hot. It's very violent, so be careful if you get queasy easily. I had trouble with the finger amputations. I think the director had a fetish for that, because it happened like three or four times. That's my own personal issue, though, and it's hard to justify hating a movie for it when I had no problem with people exploding all over the place. The martial arts and shootouts were pretty sweet; Rhames, Kelly the Hottie Hu, and Begbie all turned in great performances; and the concept of a competition of assassins played out really well. An all around solid film. Thanks go out to RepoGenetic for recommending it.

Reviewing this film after Battlestar Galactica: The Plan works to provide some context for what I look for in a movie. I'm not saying I can't appreciate a great thought provoking film-- District 9 certainly was that-- it's just that Battlestar Galactica didn't do the job District 9 did, and if I have a choice between over the top action or mediocre sci-fi, I'll take the over the top action every time. Especially if it's got Ving Rhames and Kelly Hu in it. Don't get me wrong, Grace Park is hot, but she's no Kelly Hu.

Photobucket

Speaking of Kelly Hu, this is only the second film of hers we've reviewed, the other being the lack luster Succubus: Hell Bent. I looked at her bio, and realized she doesn't do a lot of DTV work, which would explain her absence here. That's too bad, because she's one of the hottest chicks of all time. I've rounded up a few others, and I'll try and review them sometime soon, but I think she needs to reevaluate her career path. Fewer USA Original Series and CBS Crime Dramas, and more Dolph Lundgren films.

Pulp Fiction is a big deal for anyone from my generation. It had such a huge impact on popular culture at the time, and has influenced so many films since. I have it as the second best film of the 90s, after Schindler's List. (If you're curious, Roger Ebert has Pulp Fiction second too, only he has Hoop Dreams first and Schindler's List 6th.) Anyway, after reviving the career of John Travolta, making Samuel L. Jackson a marquee name, reminding us why we think Bruce Willis is so cool, and introducing us to Uma Thurman (unless you count Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but I don't), it also took a character actor by the name of Ving Rhames and made him larger than life. I think, fifteen years later, at least for people of my generation, that feeling remains, and I felt it the whole time Rhames was in this film. He was such a cool casting decision as the best living assassin, and I hope he does more DTV actioners.

Photobucket

This film is set in Middlesbrough, a city in the north of England. What a cool place to set a movie, even if some of it was filmed in Bulgaria. My buddy is a Sunderland fan, which is the working class neighbor to Middlesbrough, and both cities are right near Newcastle. Anyone who watches the EPL knows that both 'Boro and Newcastle went down last year, leaving Sunderland with no derby games. I'm an Arsenal fan, and I told my buddy he could borrow West Ham for the season if he wanted a rival. I still have to watch that Arsenal West Ham game from the weekend by the way. I know, I suck as a Gooner.

If you dig action, you'll like this. It's everything that Wanted wasn't, and everything Wanted was sold to us as being. Hu is hot as usual, and Rhames is as awesome as you'd imagine him being. It's a little gory, so you may want to check the tags on imdb to see if it has anything you have trouble with. I will say the "burnt face" tagged wasn't really that bad, so don't worry about that one if you don't like burnt faces (and I don't).

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0471041/

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (2009)

Photobucket

This came out yesterday, and since it's DTV, I'd thought I'd review it. My friends know I'm no fan of the new Battlestar Galactica, and I've only seen a couple episodes (including the end of the final one), so it'll be interesting to see what someone like me who has very little idea about the storyline will think about it. I did love the old one, though.

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is about a Cylon plan to eradicate humanity through an attack on twelve human colonies and the use of Cylons so human they think they're humans that live among humans and will strike at the right moment. What the Cylons don't plan on is the Cylons think they're so human have fallen in love with them and won't carry out their orders the way they're supposed to.

Photobucket

This is probably the toughest film I've ever had to review. It's not necessarily bad, but it's not all that remarkable either. People will probably say that I'm missing a lot of things that I missed by not following the show, but I sincerely doubt it. There's just not much going on here that isn't derivative, at least on a sci-fi (SyFy?) level. Humans creating androids or robots that want to become human: we've been there. Animosity on the two sides reflecting modern day human bigotry: see Star Trek. I mean, this is text book Frank Gorshin with one side of his face painted black and the other white.

Don't get me wrong, the movie does bring up other issues, from things like suicide bombings to what it means to be human, from fresh angles that other pop media haven't covered. I do think they did a better job discussing race relations metaphorically than Crash did. The problem is, their examination of what it means to be human is only so deep, like me in high school writing a book report on A Farewell to Arms by just reading the back of the book (I have read the whole thing since on my own time). Maybe I'm too postmodern, but they needed to turn humanity on its ear, look at us as if they were aliens, with no pretense, and build from there. But that's the problem that all of these types of studies on humans have: these people aren't social scientists, they don't have the capacity to understand the book beyond back cover.

Photobucket

Here's what I'm talking about: language like "Gods damn it" and "frack" from people who dress like Americans circa 2004. What's great about sci-fi is we have the ability to recreate the world, yet everyone from Star Trek and Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica are invariably stuck in the period they write in (though Star Wars much less so). On the other hand, I like the idea of creating a metaphorical world with a lot of similarities to ours for the sake of allegory. I just think it needs to be somewhat consistent and less helter skelter. Anachronistic guns and clocks in this futuristic looking city just doesn't work.

Let me get into two of the stars real quick: Edward James Olmos (who also directed) and Dean Stockwell. They starred in two of my all-time favorite shows, Miami Vice and Quantum Leap respectively. All right, maybe I didn't like Quantum Leap, but I loved Miami Vice. My friends always think I'm being facetious when I say Miami Vice or even Paris Hilton's My New BFF is better than Battlestar Galactica, but I'm being serious. Miami Vice was an uncanny blend of being a product of its time while at the same time being ahead of its time and a throw back. It had the clothes and music of the 80s, with the Film Noir mystery aesthetics of the 40s, and dealt with issues like AIDS that we were still about ten years away from being mainstream issues. Paris Hilton's My New BFF probably does a better job of examining the human condition than Battlestar Galactica: Paris Hilton knows these kids are only there to be her friend because she's famous, and she tortures them because of it-- for our benefit. Strangely enough, when one of the Cylons in this film says "all the Cylons ever wanted was someone to hold them to their bosom and tell them they're loved", the contestants vying for the title of Paris's friend seem to be doing the same thing.

Photobucket

No sci-fi series could ever be complete without a hot chick robot, and we have a real looker here in Grace Park. It's funny looking at Star Trek, because they held out forever, finally succumbing in the Voyager series with that Borg chick. Don't get me wrong, I'm am in no way mocking sci-fi fans, because creating the perfect spouse is something that affects all walks of human life. How many women get a hold of a guy and try to change his wardrobe? Really, it's a missed opportunity in studying the human condition that just reinforces my overall feeling that Battlestar Galactica just doesn't have the capacity to get outside itself enough to really say anything profound about humanity.

I really don't know that I can recommend this to someone who isn't already a fan of the show. Like I said, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't all that remarkable either. The almost two hour running time isn't as bad as it sounds, because there are a lot of stories that are told in the soap opera style of quick hits, so nothing can ever get too boring. I guess that's the best way to describe this: a soap opera for guys who don't like pro wrestling.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286130/

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

Photobucket

This was supposed to be the box office bomb from two Fridays ago, but between being sick and my trip to visit friends in Mass, I fell a little behind. It worked out, though, because I was able to watch this with my buddy and his wife, and she's a huge Lord of the Rings fan, which gave me a better context to put the movie in. I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'm not huge on the fantasy genre, though I hear the chicks dress pretty hot at the conventions.

In the Name of the King is an Uwe Boll film with Jason Statham as Farmer, a dude whose wife is captured and son and in-laws are killed by gross demon characters controlled by Ray Liotta. His king, Burt Reynolds, wants to conscript him, his brother in-law, and Ron Perlman, but they'll have none of it, and want to take on Liotta's army on their own. What they don't know is Liotta is working with Reynolds' conniving nephew, the always annoying Matthew Lillard, and is seducing the king's magus' daughter (John Rhys-Davies and Leelee Sobieski respectively). The kingdom's only hope lies in the hands of this Farmer and his magical boomerang.

Photobucket

This was a pretty fun deal. It sucked that it was two-and-a-half hours long, that was the biggest complaint-- and obviously no one is meant to take it all that seriously-- but for me and my buddy, it was a pretty solid nonstop laugh fest. Statham was great as a fighter named farmer. Who comes up with that? It's great. Even better, he was raised from a boy by Ron Perlman. Of course he would be. And who else would you want as your king? Or your evil sorcerer? Again, the story was a little long, but it was much easier to take than a Lord of the Rings or Dungeon and Dragons movie. Fantasy has a certain place in the movie industry: done by German directors making the crappiest big budget movies possible to take advantage of a German tax loophole for film makers.

That's right, according to his Wikipedia entry, Uwe Boll has gotten funding for movies like this ($60 million budget) by using a German tax loophole that, until it was amended in 2005, allowed investors to write off 100% of funding for a movie, and also to write off fees associated with borrowing additional money for it. So despite the fact that this movie made about $10 million worldwide, his investors were able to get a good chunk of that money lost back. It kind of sucks that Germany's no longer subsidizing Uwe Boll's ridiculous video game movies. The result was the much less fun DTV BloodRayne 2, which I reviewed back in 2007 I believe.

Photobucket

This is the third Jason Statham film we've done at the DTVC. I think out of all the new crop of action stars, he's the best bet to carry the torch. My friend and I were looking at how long gone are the days of Terminator 2 and True Lies. The question is, what's next? I think Statham's newer, slimmed down, more sophisticated version is probably the best option. I do like Vin Diesel, despite what most of my friends think, but he allowed Paul Walker to outcool him in Fast and Furious, and that should never happen. Throw in that Crank: High Voltage was pretty cool, and I think it's unanimous that Statham is our current biggest action star, and he was as fun to watch in this as he was in anything else.

This is also the second movie we've reviewed with Statham and Liotta (Revolver). At one point I quoted the beginning of Goodfellas, and my friend was like "Oh my God, don't remind me he did such a good movie." I've found the best thing to do when faced with a Ray Liotta sighting in a bad movie is to sing "Rah-Rah-Rah-Ray Liotta" to the tune of The Knack's "My Sherona." What was great about him was he didn't try to affect an English accent for the role. Good for him.

Photobucket

Most people know that I'm pretty tough on The Lord of the Rings movies, books, etc. I guess I just don't get it. I don't get talking trees, and I don't get how talking trees are any different from Painkiller Jane in this movie leading a clan of swinging tree women with magical vines. I understand that Tolken begot a fair amount of fantasy stuff that came after, but I guess the question is, why does that matter? The Middle Ages sucked ass-- it's a historical fact. Why would anyone want to glorify that? I get it Tolken, you were upset that the lower classes in England were being elevated by social reforms, and you thought it would bring about the downfall of civilization, and you longed for the times when everyone knew their place and did what they were born to do. I guess I'm just too American, and I think by virtue of my being born poor I'm good for more than just neck tattoos and bunch of kids born to a bunch of different moms. Maybe it's just me.

All right, now that I'm safely off my soapbox, I'll wrap this review up. Rent it. You'll love it. The length is the only real issue, so just be ready to have a bunch of friends and your A material, and you should be fine.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460780/

Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1985)

Photobucket

I've been meaning to get my hands on this one for a while, but somehow it was buried deep in my queue. Then I got it, but decided to save it for a trip to Mass to visit a buddy that I knew would enjoy it. So here it is now, a long time coming, but so worth the wait.

Sword of the Valiant has Miles O'Keefe as Sir Gawain and Sean Connery as the Green Knight. It starts with Connery riding his horse into a castle at Christmas, standing with his butt out, challenging any knight there to lop off his head with his axe. The catch, if Connery survives, he can return the favor. Miles steps up, disarticulates Connery's head from his shoulders, only to discover Connery can just pick his animatronic dome off the floor and reattach it to his neck. He decides, magnanimously, to allow Miles to live for a year, and if he can solve his riddle, Connery will let him live. What follows is a hilariously star-studded romp through various adventures, ending with one last showdown with everyone's favorite Scot.

Photobucket

Wow, this is utterly amazing. They just don't make movies like this anymore. Let's start with Miles, since he is the card carrying HOFer in the cast. I didn't think he could surpass his performances as Ator. I was so wrong. Party on Gawain! And Sean Connery outdoes himself. No one stands with his butt out better than he does. This also has Peter Cushing, John Rhys-Davies, and David Rappaport, who all turn in career making work. And the story is pure gold. In one scene, Miles fights a knight who sounds like a robot. That's just so hot. And that scene actually made sense! The rest of them we were like "why is Miles here in this kingdom? Why does it matter? He's just so awesome!"

The reality is, none of us knew too much of what was going on, because we were making fun of it the whole time. But that's what made it so fun. I mean, how do you not like a Sean Connery who looks like a cross between Santa, the Green Lantern, and Diana Ross? I think if you don't like that, you don't like life, and you need to do some soul searching. What blows my mind is how a movie like The Box can be greenlit (greenlighted?), while a movie like this is sitting on the shelves, waiting to be rereleased into the theaters. Anyone who thinks a guy with a chunk taken out of his face offering Cameron Diaz a million dollars as long as someone dies is better than Sean Connery looking the way I just described standing with his butt out, also needs to do some soul searching.

Photobucket

Like I said above, this is the best Miles movie ever. One of the amazing things was seeing him act opposite people like Sean Connery and Peter Cushing. Usually he's in movies like Cave Dwellers and Cartel with a bunch of nobodies. The best he's ever done as far as I can tell is Fred Williamson, Rowdy Roddy Piper, or Robert Patrick. What's good about that, is it makes Sword of the Valiant the most accessible of Miles' films. I mean, don't get me wrong, this is horrible, but it's a hilarious horrible, and all the familiar faces will make it easier to get through and make fun of for the bad movie novices out there. A great place to start for anyone wanting to get into Miles O'Keefe's oeuvre.

Speaking of oeuvres, whither Sean Connery? At least as far as this film was concerned. In 1983 he had just done Never Say Never Again, which was a major commercial success (though not doing as well as Octopussy), and right after this was Highlander, which wasn't a huge success, but garnered a cult following. Not only that, but he was only three years away from Last Crusade. The only thing I can think is he did this in part for the money, and in part because he saw names like Peter Cushing and John Rhys-Davies, and thought he'd be all right. Believe me, this feels more like a Miles O'Keefe film than a Sean Connery one. That being said, this was way better than Finding Forrester.

Photobucket

One final note to make is the pairing of John Rhys-Davies and Sean Connery, because they both played Egyptians at one point or other in their careers. What is it about Scots and Irishmen that makes us believe they're Egyptians? And it's weird, because a day doesn't go by where I don't have egg on my face mistaking one for the other. You'd think I'd learn by now. I'm watching those new Star Wars movies and I'm like "that Obi Wan is played by an Egyptian." Turns out Ewan McGregor is Scottish! I went and saw U2 with a buddy, and after I'm like "that's the best band to come out of Cairo ever." Turns out U2 is all Irishmen. It just makes sense to cast people of Scottish and Irish decent as Egyptians.

If you haven't seen this, you need to get on it right away. Netflix has it, so your best bet is to stick it at the top of your queue immediately, and return any movies you currently have at home. Also, I would strongly advise watching this one in a group. You'll need other people with you to share in the experience of one of the greatest films of all time.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084750/

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to Rob a Bank (2007)

Photobucket

I can't remember how I first got wind of this. I was intrigued by the idea of Gavin Rossdale from Bush in a movie. How can you not be? In all his videos and appearances with Gwen Stefani, he seemed to just be there. I wanted to know if as an actor, he'd just be there too.

How to Rob a Bank has Nick Stahl, from the third Terminator as a dude mixed up in a bank robbery gone bad. He has Erika Christensen, the robbery crew's techie, hostage in the bank vault, and the crew's leader, Rossdale, has everyone else hostage on the other side of the vault door. It's a Mexican stand-off, and Stahl is the unwitting point man. Will he have the street smarts to out think all the players?

Photobucket

This was good. First off, at a runtime of 81 minutes, they didn't have much room for boring parts. You'd think with 81 minutes, most movies wouldn't have much room for boring parts, but you'd be surprised. This film definitely delivered, though. What was great was, it had all the elements of your bank job suspense film, but with the condensed runtime, there was none of the superfluous crap or constant twists and double-crosses you usually get with those films. The truth is, a lot of those films could take a few tips from this movie.

It's not like the plot was overly simplistic, but it knew when to edit and when to add, and that's always a great thing. There just aren't many good movies like this out there. Everyone wants to do too much, tell us too many things, make too many profound statements. Older people always tell me "they don't make movies like they used to.", and I always thought it was a grass is greener thing, but to some degree they're right. Too many directors want to do too much, but what I've seen with this film, is there's a happy medium between too much and a mindless action flick (which we know can be an awesome thing too). We need more happy mediums like this one.

Photobucket

Gavin Rossdale was actually really good. The accent helped. Have you ever seen a bad actor with an English accent, regardless of the region? He actually had a personality though. It was hard at points to reconcile this with the guy who sang "Swallowed." I wonder if in the 90s, he just wanted to jump out of his skin and do Naked Eyes covers instead of being a Nirvana derivative.

The only issue was Nick Stahl's character, because he went from uncomfortable with things to uncannily at ease too easily. He would've been better to just be uncannily at ease from the start. Also, he has Erika Christensen's character tied up and gagged with duct tape, and we never find out how he was able to subdue her initially. She seems to be tougher than he is, and he didn't have a firearm. Unlike Stahl's character, hers was believable, and it kind of surprises me she doesn't get more work. Maybe she was typecast as a nutty pretty girl after she did Swimfan. A lesson to any actor or actress out there who is offered a role like Swimfan-- it can only hurt.

Photobucket

The central theme surrounding this movie is the idea of surcharges and ATM fees. We're at a stage now that a lot of banks don't charge a fee for using their own ATM, though I kind of think in 2007 we were at that point too. I, unfortunately, use a small credit union, so there aren't many surcharge free ATMs at my disposal. Still, in this movie, the main character needed to go inside his bank branch because its ATM wouldn't let him take out $20 without having $21.50, so he had to go inside and talk to a live teller, when I imagine any bank in 2007 would let you use their ATM, if you had an account, for free.

This is a good movie. 81 minutes of entertainment. It's not amazing or a classic, it's just a good movie. We could use more just plain old good movies like this. It's available right now via Netflix Watch Instantly, so that's a good deal.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0762104/

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia (2009)

Photobucket

It makes me feel like a bigger tool that I'm doing a post on a Navy SEALs movie after I was put on my ass and out of commission for the better part of a week with a cold. I've never had a cold like this in my life: massive sinus headache, low-grade fever, chest issues... I'll quit my whining. Even if these are fake SEALs in a movie, it still makes me feel toolish.

Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia is a sequel to the DTV hit Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil. This time, a new group of SEALs, still under the direction of Keith David, are sent into Columbia to see what FARC and the Colombian military are up to. What they're up to is setting up the SEALs to take the fall for a massacre so they can get the US out of Colombian affairs. Two SEALS escape, and another is captured, and none of them are going down without a fight, despite the fact the CIA wants to let them take the fall too so they can reestablish their foothold in the country. That's more than our heroes can take, so now they're out to clear their names, free their comrade, and let the Colombian military, FARC, and the CIA know, Navy SEALs ain't nothin' ta fuck with.

Photobucket

All right, now you're working with something here. Major step up from part deux. Action: better. Boring cabinet meetings: none. People negotiating: kept to a minimum. Thinking they're too smart for their own good: still an issue. Okay, three out of four ain't bad, right Loaf? Definitely more kick ass action, especially from the middle through to the end. We were saddled with another history lesson, but this one wasn't anywhere near as long part zwei's, so that helped. For the most part, it was an improvement.

For the most part, that is. For some reason this movie insisted on inundating us with myriad military acronyms and slang terms, I guess trying to make us feel inadequate if we didn't understand them. Three problems with this: first, according to imdb, you made a few errors, which means, yet again, you lose your credibility in trying to tell us you're smarter than us. Second, I'm not reading Finnegan's Wake here, I'm watching a frickin' DTV action movie! Stop trying to sound smart and blow more shit up. And third, after one exchange of what we now know was in part erroneous military lingo, one character says to the other: "Damn Skippy". Damn Skippy? Really, you want that in your movie? Damn Skippy is the fanny pack of slang: it was never cool, thus your movie was never cool.

Photobucket

The other reason this movie was bad was that it took almost a half hour for anything to happen. We're forced to watch a faux surveillance that doubled as a surprise party to start the film. That wasn't exciting or tense, it was stupid. Then, we get another twenty minutes of characters talking in military acronyms. Again, bo-ring! What made this all the more annoying was how good the action was once it got moving. I'm not saying I need 90 minutes of non-stop action, but if you could maybe mix in hot chicks and break up the lull periods so they aren't concentrated at the beginning, it would be a little easier to deal with.

This film was made by WWE Studios, and I must confess, I'm only marginally familiar with their work. I haven't seen The Marine, The Condemned, and 12 Rounds, but I have seen The Rundown, See No Evil, Walking Tall, and now Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia. I must say, of the four I've seen, this is second, behind The Rundown. I'm not really sure what the current state of professional wrestling is at this point-- if the UFC has really cut into their fandom or not-- but I would have to believe DTV action is a good place to put some of their wrestlers. Some guy named Mr. Kennedy is in this, and though he was responsible for the "Damn Skippy" line, he wasn't bad. I haven't followed the WWE in years, so I don't know who else is famous other than John Cena, but it just seems like a perfect marriage: buff guys who can act and do stunts. What more do you want?

Photobucket

I'm a huge McDonald's guy, so seeing a McDonald's continuity error broke my heart, and it was exacerbated by a comment to the effect of "they made me eat McDonald's". The captured SEAL is given McDonald's by his captors, but they give him a foil wrapper-- that's right, Wendy's! Blasphemy. Don't get me wrong, the Wendy's Triple is one of the Seven Wonders of the Fast Food World, so I'm not saying it's blasphemous because Wendy's is bad. I'm saying it's blasphemous to mix fast foods and not expect your audience to give a damn. And then to add insult to injury with a crack about fast food being bad! In case anyone is thinking I'm a fat dude with Whopper remnants all over my belly as I type this, I'm 5' 7", 160 lbs., and I walk on average 18 miles a week. Also in case you're wondering, I made a deal with one of my friends saying I'll give up McDonald's until Christmas, because I eat too much of it (might explain the cold knocking me on my ass too). We'll see if I make it.

Okay, I'm getting way off topic, so it's time to wrap this up. Boring first thirty minutes, pretty kick ass last hour. That's it in a nutshell. If that works for you, rent it, if it doesn't, don't.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1208647/

Monday, October 12, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil

Photobucket

With the third Behind Enemy Lines movie released recently, I realized I needed to get off my ass and review part two first. I guess I just never thought they'd make a part three... I was surprised a part one came out. I generally don't like the cash grab DTV flick, unless it's something like the Scorpion King 2, where it had Randy Couture and was directed by Russel Mulcahy. Of course, by that rationale, I should be doing Road House 2, because that has Richard Norton and Jake Busey. No dice on that one. I'll never review Road House 2 as long as I live.

Behind Enemy Lines II takes place in North Korea, and is about a SEAL team sent into to take out a nuclear missile that could potentially hit the US. Things go wrong, though, when an abort command is sent from the President while two of the SEALs have already parachuted in. Two more go in after them, and we have a problem. All the while, we're treated to exciting scenes of cabinet meetings by bad actors pretending to be politicians. The lack of suspense was killing me.

Photobucket

First let me say, this wasn't what I expected from the title. Axis of Evil led me to believe this would be a Conservative rah rah the US rules and everyone else drools kind of thing. It certainly wasn't that, and in fact, on the political score was much more ambiguous and kept things gray. Funny that it could be nuanced politically, but so sack-of-asscracky filmwise. It started with the superfluous history lesson on North Korea (which the film continually referred to as the DPRK in a very pat-ourselves-on-the-back kind of way, even though no one with any kind of policy experience calls it that), and only got worse as the action became even more sparse. They could've called it Behind Enemy Buttcheeks and had it be about a bunch of Navy SEALs farting on and getting farted on by North Korean soldiers, and it would've been more compelling.

The reality is: who gives a shit about a fake President and fake Secretaries of Defense and State debating a course of action regarding a nuclear device in North Korea? This is a fucking action movie, for Christ's sake, and I'm sorry, but Peter Coyote and the guy who played Dalton on MacGyver are not the kind of actors that can pull off making high stakes behind the scenes negotiations dramatic. And when there's little to no action on the ground with the SEALs, those negotiations go from being tedious to annoying. Peter Coyote is not Christopher Walken. We don't find him compelling when he's on the screen.

Photobucket

I got the sense that the people making this movie were trying so hard to not remake Rambo or Commando. Why? Why would you do that? Remake Commando. Please! It would be way more fun that what you gave us. It would make the overly sappy scenes of guys remembering their training and seeing their comrades fall funny instead of stupid. Cut down the amount of Oval Office talk, and give us more blowing shit up. You already knew you had a bad movie with the silly history lesson at the beginning, and the titles on screen introducing characters instead of introducing them organically through the plot like real movies do. I don't remember, did Seventh Seal pause the film and put the word "Death" on the screen so we'd know who was playing chess against Antonius Block? Exactly. You're making a DTV sequel of Behind Enemy Lines. Talk less and blow more shit up.

I always get on National Treasure when I talk about movies I couldn't stand, and one thing about it I hated was how smart it thought it was, especially when they discussed daylight savings time. The idea was that because there was no daylight savings time when Ben Franklin was alive, they weren't late getting to the next brick they needed to break open because the clock on the $100 was an hour behind. They thought they were so smart, except they didn't consider that standard time didn't exist then either. This movie had the same issue, where they thought they were so smart by saying things like "DPRK" or giving us a history lesson, but if you look at imdb, you can see the list of mistakes, in some cases rather big ones, that they made. The one I picked up was the use of "Sea of Japan and Yellow Sea" by the S. Korean ambassador, because he would've said "East Sea and West Sea". Not a big deal if you're making a movie focused on fighting and blowing shit up; but if you pat yourself on the back for your history lesson and factual accuracy, that kind of mistake makes you look stupid (which I guess you are).

Photobucket

Am I being too hard on this movie? Maybe. In one scene, a guy gets a nail driven through his hand. Hmm... I could say that was a metaphor for the whole film, because it was as painful to watch as a nail through the hand... but that would be too easy. Besides, it had Keith David, the holy man from Chronicles of Riddick, and the voice from the Marines commercials. He was barely in it, but he was good. What I think shows a lack of creativity in a movie like this, was how he wasn't cast as the President. Gotta make him a drill sergeant type, and Coyote the President. Pedestrian. It is probably time I tagged David, though, because I believe this is the third film of his we've done, maybe fourth.

You don't need to see this. I just saw Behind Enemy Lines III, and there was nothing in two that you needed to get three. The only thing I can say is if you're curious to find out what it feels like to have a nail hammered through your hand, you may want to rent this. Otherwise you'll be snoozing.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0497329/

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Photobucket

As we continue in our series of exploring box office bombs, our next film is Bangkok Dangerous. It's probably no secret that I've been waiting to get my hands on a Nicolas Cage film. It's nothing personal against him, I just feel like his movies, like National Treasure or The Family Man, can be so soul sucking, yet so many people come to me and say "did you see National Treasure? It was so good!", and I die a little bit inside.

Bangkok Dangerous is a bigger budget, Hollywood produced, Nicolas Cage starring version of a movie made by Hong Kong directors the Pang Brothers. It follows the exploits of Cage, an assassin, sent to Bangkok to do four jobs. While there, though, he starts to lose his hard edge, falls in love with a deaf woman who works at a nearby pharmacy, and decides to train the kid who's been working for him as his messenger. As we all know, though, a hit man who loses his edge is not long for this world, and Cage has to make peace with the deeds he's done and try to make amends before it's all over.

Photobucket

I really wasn't expecting this, but for the second week in a row, I actually like the box office bomb. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty that didn't work: Cage's voice-over narration, Cage as a cold-blooded assassin, and Cage with that haircut. But I can't fault Cage for going out of his element and trying this picture, or for putting his name behind a project intended to get the word out about two up-and-coming directors from Hong Kong. The story was slightly flawed, in that I couldn't reconcile the cold-blooded assassin with the human being awkwardly taking a deaf woman out on a date, or teaching his messenger how to be an assassin too; and maybe that was the point, but it just didn't work organically for me. That being said, the action was very stylized, and Bangkok as a setting was perfect for a movie like that. It had a modern Old West feel to it.

When the movie began, and Cage was doing his silly voice-overs, I thought "oh, I'm going to enjoy this. It'll be like taking candy from a baby." Throw in the hairdo, and over-the-top cold-blooded assassin routine, and this looked like a slam dunk. But then there's the scene where Cage goes to the pharmacy to care for a wound on his shoulder. Suddenly, there was the guy we loved in Moonstruck, the guy we wanted to see in Wild at Heart, the guy that won an Oscar in Leaving Lost Vegas. Out of all the films to allow him to use his range, it was Bangkok Dangerous. The problem was, perhaps he was too good in the scenes with the deaf woman. Maybe he needed to infuse some of that awkwardness into his role as the cold blooded hit man. What we forget is, he has the chops to pull off John Cusack's character in Gross Pointe Blank.

Photobucket

But we forget that because he's let us forget that. Next, Knowing, Ghost Rider, National Treasures 1 and 2, The Family Man, The Weather Man, The Wicker Man... should I continue? When I watched the making of featurette, and he discussed wanting to go outside his element and do something he doesn't normally do, with directors he doesn't normally work with, in a country he's never been to, and in a genre he's never worked in (unless you count Face/Off, but I don't), I can see why he needed a break from all that other crap. I really want to see what the new Bad Lieutenant film, directed by Werner Herzog, is like. Bangkok Dangerous had glimpses of what made Cage great, and at the very least, reminded me that I shouldn't completely write him off.

I'm not completely familiar with the world of Hong Kong cinema, nor am I that familiar with the work of the Pang Brothers. Their only other major release in the US was The Messengers, and Bangkok Dangerous was definitely better than that. This movie definitely had elements of John Woo's better work, like Hard Boiled, which Cage said was something that interested him about this project. I also saw a lot of Cage's character based on one of my favorites: Le samourai. Where the French film was better, though, was the main character was better-- more natural. This movie shouldn't have tried to remake the lead in Le samourai, it should've replayed on Cage's strengths as an actor, which we saw in full display in his scenes with the deaf woman. Here's where Bangkok Dangerous ultimately fails for me, because it's not original enough, and where it is original, with Cage, it doesn't make as great a use of that as it should.

Photobucket

I haven't seen the original Bangkok Dangerous, but from what I understood, the main character was deaf, not the woman he meets. I have it in my queue and want to see it, but I wonder if that element would've made it enough of a departure from it's forerunners to make it original for me. How many times have we seen the cold-blooded assassin with his rules and his attention to details? I get that the action is really where I'm supposed to go in this film for the excitement, and I found that part fun, but I could get that out of any movie. I also wonder if the original had the horrible voice-overs. I hope not. They were silly and useless, and actually made for lazy storytelling. Everything the voice-overs told us we would've found out in a much more subtle and interesting way just by watching the movie and having it revealed to us organically.

Wow, we're already at the eighth paragraph. Usually I'm scratching to find things to write about, and here I'm running out of room-- and we're just talking about a Nicolas Cage film! Again, this isn't great, but it's not as bad as it seems at first blush. If you can survive the early Cage voice-overs and whatnot, you'll be treated to some scenes that are real vintage Cage, and remind you of why you liked him in the first place.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814022/

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Assassination of a High School President (2008)

Photobucket

I first got wind of this movie when I saw a trailer for it on another DVD I was watching. I figured it was just an indie art house thing I didn't hear about, but when I looked it up on Wikipedia, I found out that, though it was screened at Sundance, it wasn't released in the theaters because it's distributor went bankrupt. That means it fell right into the lap of the DTV Connoisseur.

Assassination of a High School President is a Film Noir comedy set in a Chicago prep school, and follows the exploits of Bobby Funke, a sophomore who writes for the paper. After the school's SAT booklets are stolen, he sets about investigating, and what he finds is much more sinister, even for a bunch of high school kids.

Photobucket

This was an amazing movie. It was a comedic Film Noir set in a high school. Extremely well written. The cast was great, including Bruce Willis, who plays the Desert Storm vet principle; Mischa Barton of O.C. fame, who plays the seductive hottie our hero shouldn't trust; and Michael Rappaport as the basketball coach. The rest of the actors were a bunch of twenty-somethings that I didn't recognize, including the hero, but they all turned in solid performances as well. The story was more metaphorical than realistic, from the main character's detective rain jacket, to the in-school suspension room that acts as a de facto prison, but for fans of Film Noir, you'll love this fresh take.

There are many preconceived notions out there regarding movies. A classic one: if it's a foreign film or an indie art house flick, it's gotta be good. Another one I was reminded of that came up in the comment section of the previous post: if it's DTV, it wasn't good enough to make it to the theater. Here is an example of an indie art house flick that ended up being a DTV movie, and, though, for me it was definitely the former (a good art house flick), it brings home how dangerous both misconceptions are. Assassination of a High School President was good enough to be released, but circumstances that had nothing to do with its quality kept it out of the theaters. I can think of myriad art house movies that weren't so hot, yet got rave reviews (Buffalo '66), and many DTV movies (Streets of Blood with Val Kilmer), that were better than a lot of major release movies, and had very little fanfare. I definitely do this blog to showcase a lot of the bad action films from the 90s my friends and I love, but I also do it to look outside the mainstream of what Hollywood considers "good", or at movies that have been lost in the shuffle, like this one.

Photobucket

As a reviewer of Direct to Video movies, I haven't had occasion to do a Bruce Willis movie, so I was excited when this opportunity presented itself. I went through his imdb bio, and I was amazed at how many things he'd done that I'd forgotten about (Look Who's Talking), wanted to forget about (The Whole Ten Yards), and was completely astounded to learn of (Spike in the Rugrats Movie). One thing I couldn't find was a role quite like the one he had here as the principal of a prep school. It's like the coolest concept ever: Bruce Willis as the high school principal, and he seems to understand that and delivers exactly what we want.

Mischa Barton plays the female lead, and it's interesting, because as a Film Noir leading lady, she played the role perfectly; but as a senior in high school, she came off as a 30-year-old trying to pass as a teenager, a la Luke Perry. That's why I was pretty shocked to find out she was only twenty-three years old. I know the idea of the high schoolers was that they were supposed to seem older than they were to make the imaginary world work, but she seemed more mature than the rest of the cast, and didn't really pass for a teenager the way the others did. Again, she felt more like Luke Perry on 90210. She has another film out right now, Walled In, and though it doesn't look great, I do need to do more horror films, so I probably should give it a look see.

Photobucket

This DVD had tons of deleted scenes and alternate scenes on it. Usually I look at some of them and think "why didn't they go with that?", but in this instance, I thought they were right in cutting every deleted or alternate scene. I'd be doing a completely different review had they gone in some of those directions. It shows just how important the right edit can be to a movie, and it makes me wonder how many movies I didn't like that had alternate beginnings or ending or whatever on the editing room floor that would've made them awesome. Just going back one post to Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior, there was a movie that could've been a lot of fun with better editing.

This movie was great. It deserved all the buzz it received at Sundance and after. Smart, funny, and dark in places, it hits all the marks. Hands down, one of the best films I've seen this year.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1018818/

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior (2008)

Photobucket

This movie came out in August of last year, and I'm not entirely sure how it escaped my radar. I'm definitely better now at getting to newer DTV films when they're released, but what's great about a site that reviews films people find at the video store or on Netflix, those movies are still there, and my reviews of those films are still relevant, even a year later.

Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior is a prequel to the earlier film that had The Rock in it. A young Scorpion King, before he learns to fight, is the son of a great warrior, who is killed by some black magic unleashed by the Evil Randy Couture (I know, it's weird to say). He's enrolled in the Scorpion King Academy, and comes back a fierce warrior, ready to avenge his father's death. Problem: Couture's magic is too strong. I smell an adventure! The young Scorpion King now must venture into the dreaded Underworld and retrieve a sword that will counter Couture's magic, thus helping him win his revenge.

Photobucket

Wow, was this long. 108 minutes, of which 35-40 minutes was superfluous filler. Why did the evil goddess of the underworld speak in long, breathy tones? To fill time. Why did two members of the supporting cast have trouble getting the spinning sword we knew they were going to get eventually anyway? To fill time. Why did our hero fight Couture at the end, only to have Couture lose and turn into a scorpion so our hero would have to fight him again? You guessed it, to fill time. This had roughly the amount of material of a Hercules or Beastmaster episode, but it was stretched into something over twice as long.

And that's too bad, because, other than some dubious casting decisions, this could've been pretty fun, like in that Beastmaster/Hercules kind of way. It had a cute story, cute characters, and some action. I didn't like Randy Couture cast as the baddie, or the CW heartthrob cast as the hero, but I could've gotten past those things. Using annoying cinematic devices to keep the story from moving at an entertaining pace in order to make the movie longer, though, I couldn't get past.

Photobucket

The main character's female cohort was a total hottie named Karen Shenaz David. She had a very small role in another DTVC film, Flight of Fury, which also starred Steven Seagal. I think her fight scenes were better done than the CW heartthrob's, which makes me wonder why the film wasn't centered around her. What if it was a real Scorpion King prequel, where she played the Scorpion King's mom before he was born? Would've made for a better movie.

Randy Couture would've made a great baddie, except for his voice. He sounded too nice. I know he could kick my ass any day, and when he stares, he looks menacing, but the voice just reminds me too much of the guy I root for in the UFC. We've done a lot of UFC fighters in movies lately, and I would put Randy right behind Rampage as far as the best goes, but this just wasn't a great role for him.

Photobucket

I was going to put two pictures of Ms. David on this blog, because she was so hot, but I felt that might not be fair to my female readers (if I have any). I'm also not always good at determining which members of my gender women or gay men find the most attractive, so forgive me if I've made the wrong decision. My options were the CW heartthrob hero, or the precocious English poet guiding the hero on his way. Knowing the tastes of the women I know who like bad action and sci-fi, they usually go for the precocious Englishman, so that's who I chose, one Mr. Simon Quaterman (very guest on the new Dr. Who sort of name, don't you think?)

I would recommend this movie if it wasn't so long. I found it really tedious when it should've been fun. You'd be much better off going through your old Hercules DVDs. I've always personally gone for the episodes that have Bruce Campbell in them, but that's just me.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1104123/

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shadow Man (2006)

Photobucket

Not long after completing the Dolph Lundgren DTV catalog, we are now doing the same with Steven Seagal. Again, it feels great to have every film reviewed on this site. If you need to know about a Steven Seagal DTV film, the DTVC is your source, as it is with Dolph Lundgren.

Shadow Man is another Romanian DTV actioner, this time placing Seagal as a former operative on his way home from Bucharest, when his father-in-law is blown up in a car at the airport, and his daughter is kidnapped by a mysterious cabbie. Now he's tearing a swath through the city searching for his daughter, and every clue he finds also uncovers the mystery as to what his father-in-law was carrying that made him a target for bombing. The CIA and the Russian Mob are hot on his tail, but really, they're the ones looking for trouble if they think they want a piece of Seagal.

Photobucket

This is pretty sweet. Again, extremely ridiculous, but what else do you expect from Seagal. One thing that frustrated me was how, in the beginning, they showed Seagal teaching a martial arts class on the importance and power of Chi, and he was like busting watermelons and blowing people through walls with his hands. I wanted him to be Chi-ing people all over the place, but he didn't until the very end, when he took out one dude. There was one scene, where, only in a Seagal film, he's locked in a room of a mansion, supposedly as a set-up to be taken out by some dudes. Of course, that room has shotgun shells and various items and devices he can use to turn that room into a fortress, and he can do all that in about five minutes. I just didn't get it, when he should've just Chi-ed the door open, ran into the hallway, and taken out the bad guys Apache style, only using Chi instead of knives. I guess I feel if these movies are going to be so ridiculous, why not just go all the way with the ridiculousness.

There's no concrete word on when The Keeper, Seagal's next film, is supposed to be released. Imdb has it listed at 9/22/2009, but we're well beyond that now. Who knows, between distributors, etc., these films can be passed around and left on a shelf in a warehouse somewhere for years. That means, though, that Shadow Man will be our last taste of Seagal for a while, and I think that's okay. He was pretty good. His martial arts were solid, and his use of Ebonics was sublime. My favorite scene came when he was talking on the phone to some guy he knows that hacks into things, and he ends the conversation with "Do yo' thaaaaang," in a slightly high pitched voice. I'm considering ending all of my phone with that line from now on.

Photobucket

We all know Seagal often gets his share of women in these films, and in many cases it makes no sense. Women tend to just have sex with him, while he keeps his sweatshirt on. In this movie, he has a really hot girlfriend, and then the woman who kidnaps his daughter is a hot chick from England. When he and that hot chick link up to find his daughter (long story), for no apparent reason, as they're waiting overnight in an apartment for something to happen, she takes her shirt off and approaches him. She has this weird look on her face-- not of seduction, but rather Steve Perry in the Run DMC video for "Walk This Way" when the rappers break into his concert. Then Seagal says, apropos of nothing, "I know you, you want us to believe you cold as ice, but you got a heart in there," and she starts crying, and he's like "come here," and he holds her-- end scene. Come to Daddy, that's right, Steven will make it all better.

As in many Romanian action movies, parts of this film are shot in a discotheque. I don't know what it is, but the idea of going to a club in Eastern Europe scares me. Okay, I do know what it is: the Russian mob, angry vets of the Balkan Wars, and various other unsavory characters that can't wait to get their hands on a naive American like me and force him to give them everything he has on him. If I ever make the trip to Bucharest, Bratislava, Budapest, etc., you best believe that I won't be going anywhere near a club, unless someone like Man Utd. star striker Dimitar Berbatov is going with me.

Photobucket

The fact that we've covered every Steven Seagal film is big in a different way from Dolph Lundgren, because with Seagal, he was someone I wasn't as big a fan of. I still don't like him as much as Dolph, but this journey through his DTV catalog has made me appreciate him more than I once did. Sure, I loved Out for Justice and Hard to Kill as a kid, but his DTV stuff just never really did it for me. Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of clunkers and disappointments along the way, but just the same, it's been a fun ride. Looks like Jean Claude Van Damme would be the next one to have his whole catalog up, but I can't find a cheap enough copy of either No Retreat, No Surrender or Black Eagle on Amazon, so it'll be a little while before that happens.

If this is the last Seagal film I review for a while, it's a good one. You'll have plenty of fun with this, so put it in your Netflix queue or pick it up if you see it at the video store. Seagal in Romania or Bulgaria is a good look for him, especially when it's done as ridiculously as it is here.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0448114/

Friday, October 2, 2009

Basic Instinct 2 (2006)

Photobucket

This is the first in what will be a new weekly feature where I look at films that were released theatrically, and bombed big time. We'll see how it goes. I first came across the idea when I reviewed Streets of Blood, which starred Val Kilmer and Sharon Stone. I was curious to see what Basic Instinct 2 did in the box office, and found out it grossed a staggering $5 million. Still, I felt like it wasn't exactly a DTV film, because it was in quite a few theaters, and had a nationwide advertising campaign. That got me thinking about some others, like this year's Bangkok Dangerous, or 2007's In the Name of the King, that I'd really like to take a look at as well. Again, it's just a trial thing for the month of October, but if people like it, and if I like it too, we'll keep it.

Basic Instinct 2 is the follow up to the 1992 film that made Sharon Stone famous. Now she's in London, and she's in trouble with the law again, after she drives a car with a doped up soccer star off a bridge. She's taken to a psychiatrist to determine if she should receive bail, and she picks him as her new toy. The two go in circles, her trying to seduce him, him trying to to get in too deep; and all the while, people they both know are dying. He suspects her, but she keeps giving him other potential culprits. It's a collision course to wackiness, and the question is, will the psychiatrist keep his sanity, or will Stone's seductions win out.

Photobucket

Okay, are you ready for this? I actually liked it. I know, what the hell am I talking about? You must be growing senile in your old age, Matt! Hear me out. First off, it's plenty goofy, plenty Skin-a-max-y, and plenty over the top. But it has this cool Film Noir quality to it, like you could almost see the movie being made in the 1940s (except for the sex). This wouldn't be your top drawer Film Noir, but I'd put it in that Dead Reckoning category of not bad. It hit all the spots of what Film Noir should be, but then it also camped it up with outlandish dialog and overtly sexual scenes.

Sharon Stone was hot, too. She was 47-48 when this was filmed, but I think she almost looked as hot as she did in 1992. You could tell she was having fun in this role, and the way she delivered her lines made me think of Bacall and Davis in some of their Film Noir roles 60 years before. Of course, her "you know how to whistle, don't you? You put your lips together and blow" was more like "I want you to make me cum, doctor." The film is a reimagined 1940s-50s Film Noir in a modern setting, so why not have spice up the dialog some too.

Photobucket

One thing I loved was how everything was in a cramped space. The streets of London were cramped, the apartments people lived in were cramped-- even the large, open office the psychiatrist has, becomes cramped the moment Stone enters the room. As much as she imposes herself on everyone's space, the film has a way of doing that as well. It's one of the elements of good Film Noir that I've always liked. One of my favorite usages of this device was on the TV show Miami Vice. For all it's silliness, it was always well shot, and they had a way of taking a huge mansion and making it small and intimate. It also diverted from the classic Noir framework of dark, neutral colors, and replaced them with pastels. Basic Instinct 2 definitely held to the traditional color pallete we expect from a Film Noir, with it's use of blacks and reds. Again, one exception was the doctor's office, which was open and white.

As I'm sure you've figured out, I'm a huge fan of bad action, and as we know, bad action is always violent. Tons of gunplay, brutal beatings, stabbings, and a good death is often glorified if the hero can get creative. That being said, it blows my mind how violence and sex are treated in the film industry. Why is a vagina horrible, but a dude being shot to death is okay? This film was definitely violent, but it wasn't the violence that gave it problems with the ratings board, it was the sex. Why are we so afraid of sex in this country? I personally would much rather watch a porno than something as depraved as Last House on the Left, but one of them can be shown in a movie theater to underaged kids with parental consent, or better yet, bought in a more vicious version at a video store without parental consent; and the other is kept under lock-and-key in a shady shop with a sketchy guy behind the counter and no windows. Would there be a Saw 37 if in Saw 1, the guy made the people do each other?

Photobucket

Now that I'm off my soapbox, Charlotte Rampling was in this. You may remember her from Babylon AD, the Vin Diesel hit from 2008. Okay, maybe I use the term "hit" too loosely. It did make $22 mill, just shy of a third of it's estimated $70 million budget back, which is a lot more than the $5 mill Basic Instinct 2 got back on the same budget. $70 million just doesn't buy what it used to, huh? With the economy sagging, I wonder how many more $70 million flops will be green-lit (green-lighted?). One thing I do believe is this downturn will affect what films even make it to the theater, which will only mean more movies going Direct to Video. Sounds good to me.

If you're a fan of old school Film Noir the way I am, you should definitely check this out, because it's a lot of fun. If you're not, then you'll probably want to take a flyer and see something else. I'm not sure why it had a budget of $70 mill, because I bet it could've been done just as well for a lot less and not been released in the theater. Maybe Stone's contract was for $68 million.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430912/